ABC News

(WASHINGTON) —¬†Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen on Sunday said the Biden administration is not being heeded in its entreaties for Israel to reduce the civilian death toll from the military campaign against Hamas extremists in Gaza, which is being carried out with U.S. support.

“I don’t think it’s getting through clearly enough because we continue to see unacceptably high levels of civilian casualties,” Van Hollen told ABC “This Week” co-anchor Jonathan Karl. “And when it comes to the humanitarian crisis [in Gaza], we still have a near-total siege.”

The Maryland lawmaker, who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, acknowledged there had recently been some positive developments, such as Israel opening an important border crossing into the territory — but “it shouldn’t take this long.”

“Look, President [Joe] Biden has been absolutely right to stand with Israel in the objective of ending the military threat from Hamas. No more Oct. 7s,” Van Hollen said, referencing the Hamas terror attack on Israel that sparked the war.

“But,” the senator continued, “he’s also right that how Israel conducts this operation, how the Netanyahu government conducts this operation, is important — and that is why it’s really essential that these issues be addressed. And they’re not being addressed sufficiently enough to my mind.”

Nearly 19,000 people have died in Gaza since the fighting began two months ago, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry; 1,200 people were killed in Israel in the October attack, according to the Israeli prime minister’s office.

The concern from Van Hollen comes amid Israel’s continued aerial and ground offensives in Gaza, intended to dismantle Hamas throughout the territory.

The Biden administration is providing key arms and other assistance to Israel, including recently bypassing Congress to send Israel almost 14,000 tank cartridges as part of what it called an “emergency” need.

At the same time, the president and others like Secretary of State Antony Blinken have been increasingly vocal that Israel should narrow its retaliatory campaign to limit the widespread death and destruction to civilians in Gaza.

Some progressives in the Democratic Party have joined pro-Palestinian activists in pushing for a total cease-fire. Biden has rejected that, saying it would help Hamas, but said last week that Israel was losing support internationally and should change course.

“Nothing will stop us. We are going on to the end, until victory, nothing less,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week.

While Israeli military officials insist they take steps to save civilians, despite the death toll, they also say Hamas is deliberately embedded in civilian communities — making it that much harder.

“The United States is not a bystander to this. We are a big supplier, of course, a supplier of military assistance to Israel,” Van Hollen said Sunday. “So we are with them [Israel] entirely in the objective of ending the military threat. But again, we need to make sure that our values are reflected in this so long as we are providing all of this equipment.”

Van Hollen criticized “very loose rules of engagement” and suggested there is a relative lack of restraint by Israeli forces who are focused on pursuing Hamas leaders.

Van Hollen also knocked Netanyahu over recent comments where Netanyahu touted his past efforts against an independent Palestinian state — contending Palestinians are a threat to Israel.

Van Hollen argued the Israeli government should have taken more steps to support the Palestinian Authority, a Hamas rival which recognizes Israel’s right to exist, while limiting controversial moves like expanding Jewish settlements in the Palestinian West Bank.

“Instead of trying to find peace or at least preventing the conditions on the ground from changing, with additional settlements to allow a two-state solution, he has shut the door on that effort,” Van Hollen said.

Fears over broader violence in the Middle East have escalated amid what officials have said are clashes on Israel’s northern border with Hezbollah, attacks by Iranian proxies on U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria and drone and ballistic missile launches on commercial ships from Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen.

Van Hollen praised the Biden administration’s response so far in the Red Sea, after U.S. and other warships shot down projectiles from Yemen, but warned there would be a heavy price to pay if any American was hurt or killed.

He also said that the U.S. taking large-scale action against the Houthis could risk America being “bogged down” or distracted in the region.

“I think that the administration has been smart in terms of how it’s responded to those attacks, but clearly the risk of an American being killed in the process is high, and that would obviously create a big response for the United States,” he said.

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